A Ukrainian Miner Speaks About Economic and Political Transition.

While listening to news of recent events in Ukraine, I remembered Valintin Chukalov, a Ukranian coal miner I met in 2000, when Appalshop filmmaker Herb E. Smith and I documented international mine safety workshops conducted by MSHA.  Valentin accompanied us on visits to several deep mines surrounding Donetsk, Ukraine.  This industrial city is the heart of the Donbas – the coal mining region of eastern Ukraine that is closely aligned with Russia.

In this interview Chukalov explains how the transition from the socialized mines of the Soviet era to private enterprise created serious problems for many coal miners and their families.  These issues are part of the background for today’s political unrest in Ukraine.

Speaking in 2000, Chukalov said:  “As we transition to the market economy, uneconomic mines are to be shut down, and they are the majority.   Out of the 300 mines in the Ukraine, 200 are to be closed.  This creates social issues to be addressed – what to do with the laid off miners?

This interview was originally broadcast in 2000 on WMMT 88.7 fm in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

I hope that this post provides context for the complex relationship between coal mining, industrialization and global politics.

Tom Hansell, March 2014

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Director’s note: Welcome to 2014

junction 2014photo courtesy of Robert Gipe, Harlan County, KY


As we move into the new year, I want to provide a brief update on the After Coal project.  The past year has been busy and exciting – our production team recorded more than 50 hours of interviews and location footage in the coalfields of central Appalachia and South Wales.

Some highlights of this past year’s work on After Coal include traveling to Wales, recording a rehearsal of Cor Meibion Onllwyn (The Onllwyn Male Voice Choir), and a tour of the historic Tower mine site in south Wales.  Closer to home in In Harlan County, Kentucky, we followed the Higher Ground project as they created the new community play: Foglights.  Higher Ground 4: Foglights played to sell out crowds at four historic sites throughout the county.  You can read project director Robert Gipe’s blog to learn more about this powerful project.

Throughout 2014 we will continue to tell the stories of how residents of coal mining communities are working to create a healthy hometown economy.  I hope you check the blog regularly for updates including:

  • an interactive music map of coal mining songs from Appalachia and Wales,
  • a resource guide of organizations in both regions working on issues of culture, leadership development, and economic transition,
  • and a new video clips from our work in progress

After Coal is both a documentary and a community engagement project, so we want to hear your voices.  Feel free to contact us with your questions and ideas via the comments section of this website or e-mail me: thansell@gmail.com

Best wishes to you and yours for 2014

- Tom Hansell, director, After Coal project.

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Family Learning: A Foundation for Strong Communities

by Mair Francis, After Coal Project Adviser

I have been a Family Learning Commissioner for NIACE (The National Institute of Adult Continuing Education) England and Wales.  NIACE is a non-governmental organisation working for adult learners that advocates on behalf of adult learners and providers.  Its focus is on those who are least skilled, most disadvantaged and whose motivation, economic and social circumstances present barriers to engaging in learning.

The year long Inquiry into Family Learning was launched in October 2012 to gather new evidence of the impact of family learning, to develop new thinking and to influence public policy.

Mair Francis talks with community members at Croescrw Community Learning Centre in June, 2013.

Mair Francis talks with community members at Croescrw Community Learning Centre in June, 2013.

Research shows that family learning could increase the overall level of children’s development by as much as 15% for those from disadvantaged groups.

The recommendations for Wales were:

  1. Family Learning should be integral to school strategies to raise children’s attainment and to narrow the gap between the lowest and highest achievers.

  2. Family Learning should be a key element of adult learning and skills strategies to engage those furthest from the labour market and improve employability, especially through family language and maths provision.

  3. Every child should have the right to be part of a learning family.  Many children grow up in families that can support family learning but some do not.  Targeted support should be available for these families.

  4. Key government departments in England and Wales should include family learning in their policies and strategies in order to achieve cross-departmental outcomes.

  5. The governments of England and Wales should regularly review the funding for and supply of family learning against potential demand.

  6. There should be a joint national forum for family learning in England and Wales to support high quality, innovative practice, appropriate policy and advocacy, research and development.

For more detailed information on the recommendations please visit the NIACE website.

After Coal project advisor Mair Francis is a community organizer and author of numerous articles on women’s training and lifelong learning, including her history of the DOVE Workshop in Banwen. DOVE is a women’s training center in the Dulais Valley, of which Francis was founder and manager from 1985-1999.  She is currently the Senior Parliamentary Assistant for Dr. Hywel Francis, MP.

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Community Workers: You are the Heroes

by Angela Wiley

How can you become a successful community worker? What is counter hegemonic community development? What are alternatives to current power structures? These are just some of the questions Dean Cawsey explored in an interview with the After Coal production team this summer in Wales.

I didn’t develop the questions, schedule the interview, or check the audio levels on location. I had no idea who Dean Cawsey was. Yet, I found myself in a windowless office in Boone, North Carolina, pushing a tape labeled “Dean Cawsey 1” into the deck. For the countless time, I picked up my pen, hit the spacebar to begin playback, and began scratching time code on the margin of the legal pad. This is the work of documentary film. It is hours of preparation, even more hours of filming, and even (even) more hours of crunching media, taking notes, and weaving together the best moments. Don’t get me wrong — I love working on film projects, and love working on After Coal as a production assistant. However, in the monotony of media capture, I was unprepared for Cawsey’s testimony. I quickly realized I was trying to scribble every word into my log notes. Once the typed transcription was on my desk, half of the content was highlighted. I was truly inspired by the work Cawsey does in Wales, and felt refreshed to see the world (if for a moment) through his lens.

Angela Wiley, After Coal Production Assistant

Angela Wiley, After Coal Production Assistant.

As I listened, I was reminded of a popular quote from Fred Rogers, long time host of the U.S. TV show titled Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood quote:

It’s easy to say, ‘It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.’ Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.” On this note, the following snapshot of Cawsey’s work is a note of encouragement to anyone working behind the scenes, in social services, to anyone trying to subvert oppressive systems, and to those that want to make an impact on the world.

Cawsey is the Communities First Cluster Manager in the Western Valleys region of Wales. For eleven years, he has been pursuing the program’s mission of “tackling poverty and social disadvantage”. Most people in the focus areas are directly in search of employment. Cawsey’s task is to involve clients in community services and classes where appropriate on their path to building a skill set. Another program goal is to work directly with organizations and social services to improve programming. In this sense, Cawsey’s job is to directly support communities by working intentionally with individuals and larger entities. Cawsey reflects that, “…whilst individuals are getting involved in a process where they can improve their chances of removing themselves personally from poverty, what they’re also doing is building community resilience and supporting that community”.

Even though I work in libraries and on creative projects like After Coal, I grapple with these issues each day. Patrons in the library enter and are looking for jobs, but need computer skills to fill out online applications. Participants in the After Coal documentary are both excited and apprehensive about what the future could offer for their regions. It is easy for me to get wrapped up in the tasks at hand, and forget the possibilities inherent in library work, or the potential impact of a given film. What I enjoyed most from listening to Cawsey was the context he was able to wrap around his work, even after a decade of formal dedication through Communities First.

Dean Cawsey walks in his neighborhood of Banwen, Wales.

Dean Cawsey walks in his neighborhood of Banwen, Wales.

Cawsey’s prerogative is to conduct work that undermines three interconnected “-isms” in western culture: capitalism, materialism, and individualism:

[Communities First] is about valuing community. It is about valuing collective action, and I think it is about promoting the benefits of getting involved in things that seek to achieve collective human well-being. I think [this] is what I’m about and I think it is what the program is all about…It’s absolutely essential to provide people with real alternatives to the current paradigm.”

The work in the Dulais Valley, and in communities all over the world is not 9-5. It requires workers to become embedded in the social fabric, it calls for active listening, creativity, and sometimes miraculous patience. To Dean Cawsey and to all those trying to improve their pocket of the world — thank you for what you do. And thank you in advance for continuing. We need you, and you are my hero.

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Music and Community Building in Appalachia

Ann Schertz is the musical director for the Higher Ground performances in Harlan County Kentucky.  She believes in the power of culture to bring communities together to create a better future.

Ann Schertz discusses music with the Higher Ground cast on opening night.

Ann Schertz discusses music with the Higher Ground cast on opening night.

When we interviewed Ann for the After Coal documentary this summer, she explained her belief that performance is where we practice what we want to be as a community.

Schertz reflected: Performance is practicing together, playing together, moving together, singing together, laughing together, crying together.  Doing these things together helps us practice a unity that isn’t always there when we’re scattered in our own individual lives. And it’s fun, as well. There’s big power in having that kind of fun.

This sample of the opening number from Higher Ground 4, “Foglights”, provides a sense of harmony and unity that Ann brings to her work.

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Fall in Appalachia

The After Coal Production team and Nature Photographer Jim Clark collaborated to offer these images of Fall in Appalachia. Do you have fall photos from Appalachia or Wales that you would like to share with us? Send them to aftercoalfilm@gmail.com.

Autumn Reflections in Williams River - Monongahela National Forest, WV (c) Jim Clark www.jimclarkphoto.com

Autumn Reflections in Williams River – Monongahela National Forest, WV – photo by (c) Jim Clark http://www.jimclarkphoto.com

Railroad engines in the New River Gorge near Thurmond, WV - photo by Tom Hansell

View from Pottertown Gap in Ashe County, NC – photo by Tom Hansell

Railroad engines in the New River Gorge near Thurmond, WV - photo by Tom Hansell.

Railroad engines in the New River Gorge near Thurmond, WV – photo by Tom Hansell

Exterior of the old Evarts High School, which shut down in the 1990s. The building was recently bought by local residents who are creating a community center - photo by Tom Hansell

Exterior of the old Evarts High School, which shut down in 2008. The building was recently bought by local residents who are creating a community center – photo by Tom Hansell


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What Happens in the Aftermath? The 1966 Aberfan Disaster Remembered Through Community Action

On October 21, 1966 a coal waste pile in Aberfan, Wales collapsed, killing 114 schoolchildren.  This post by graduate student Kathrine Engle examines the resilience of coal mining communities in the wake of disaster.  The author was part of a group from Appalachian State University who traveled to Wales for a summer study abroad program in June of 2013.  This is the final installment in a series of blog posts written by the students about their experience.

By Kathryn Engle

During our time in Wales, part of the GPS mapping project has been research on coalfield communities and points of interests in different towns in south Wales. We have completed library research in the South Wales Coalfield Collection, which is split between the South Wales Miners’ Library and the Richard Burton Archives at Swansea University. This repository of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, lodge minutes, union banners, photographs, videos, oral history interviews, and secondary sources is a storehouse of information about life in the valleys. The collection especially focuses on the perspective of workers and organizations, including the National Union of Mineworkers.

A particularly interesting collection that was pulled during our visit to the Richard Burton Archives was a compilation of newspaper clippings on the Ty Toronto project and the “Call to the Valleys” conference that occurred in March 1973. Ty Toronto was a community organization that began after the Aberfan disaster, when a hillside of coal waste gave way above a school killing 115 children. The community organization worked on supporting families in Aberfan and issues surrounding the decline of coal mining in the area. Seven years after the disaster the organization planned a conference at the Aberfan Community Center about the future of their community.

Scene of Aberfan Disaster, 1966. From: http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/home.htm

Scene of Aberfan Disaster, 1966. From: http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/home.htm

The series of articles told about the conference preceding and different opinions of what should be the future of coalfield communities. Articles discussed potential in the valleys, long range planning, community input, jobs, working to not have to leave for cities, migration, diversification of employment, community bonds, community regeneration, and quality of life in the coalfields. The conference featured main speakers and group sessions in which people brainstormed solutions to economic decline, outmigration, apathy, and other social problems in their communities. The articles showed conflicting visions for the direction of the area, but an overall awareness of impending transition in the communities in the south Wales valleys.

An article from the Aberdare Leader from March 12, 1973 recalled of the conference, “Two Aberfan mothers, both of them bereaved by the 1966 disaster, went to the rostrum to proclaim ‘The Call of the Valleys’ and had to say; ‘In the face of mounting threats to our existence as the community of the valleys and especially of that threat which comes from our own apathy, this call goes out from the people of Aberfan and Merthyr Vale.’” The Western Mail from March 15, 1973 asked, “What is to happen to the once proud valleys of South Wales? Once exploited now depopulated, the valley communities face a changing world at the mercy of the planners.”

Rescue efforts at the site of the Aberfan Disaster, 1966. From: http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/home.htm

Rescue efforts at the site of the Aberfan Disaster, 1966. From: http://www.nuffield.ox.ac.uk/politics/aberfan/home.htm

The Welsh and Appalachian coalfields share a history of exploitation, marginalization, false promises, disasters, environmental degradation, and other human and environmental costs associated with coal mining. With a proud heritage and a willingness to work, residents in both places have been subject to the changing tides of a globalized economy. Residents in Aberfan, Wales, and Harlan, Kentucky, have asked exactly the same questions and experienced the same uncertainties about the future of their homes. The “Call to the Valleys” conference was remarkably similar to the “Appalachia’s Bright Future” conference in eastern Kentucky this past April, organized by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. In the 1970s, villages in south Wales dealt with the same issues as coalfield communities in central Appalachia are dealing with today with questions about the future of areas that exist because of heavy industry, community regeneration, community spirit, persistence, utilizing community assets, and planning for the long term. Using the same type of language and working through the same concerns these communities have held the same conversations decades apart.

In order to be resilient, communities in both south Wales and central Appalachia have had to learn to adapt, utilizing their strengths and banding together as communities. Initiatives have to come from communities themselves and community organizations like Ty Toronto and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth provide a means for people to come together to work out problems and look to make changes. Conferences like the “Call to the Valleys” and “Appalachia’s Bright Future” are important venues to discuss complex issues about persistence, transition, solidarity, and quality of life.

South Wales Coalfield Collection: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/swcc
Richard Burton Archives: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/iss/historicalcollections/Archives
Coalfield web materials: http://www.argor.org.uk/cwm/
KFTC: http://www.kftc.org

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